What’s the Coldest You’ll Ride?

I must admit that I have been taking a break from cycle commuting for the most part since I finished my 50/50 Challenge. However, yesterday I woke up and it was pretty cold. I couldn’t resist riding into the shop to finish up some work before the Outdoor Retailer show and to sew up some custom bumpers I’ve been working on for the FIRST Robotics team: Agate Robotics.  That’s another reason I’ve been taking a break from commuting.  The Robotics team is new, and although it is fun to be an adult mentor, it is pretty intense during the 6 week build season.  Suffice it to say, I was excited to ride when it was well below zero, and there was a “wind-chill warning” for pretty much the entire state of Minnesota.

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I really don’t think riding in the cold is that bad, even though almost everyone that sees me thinks I’m crazy.  The key is to dress properly.  In the winter I always wear long underwear,  and my favorite is Icebreaker merino wool.  I rode all last winter mostly wearing shoes and gaiters, but when it’s below zero, I pull out the insulated boots.  One layer of wool socks with these boots is fine.  I dress in layers; wool base, a sweater, a couple of fleece jackets and a breathable shell.  The shell keeps out the wind.  On my hands I wear some mountaineering gloves with full gauntlets.  On my head I wear a warm hat and a scarf that I can pull up over my face.  If it were any colder, goggles would have been in order!  Of course always wear a helmet.BootsBeloZeroCommuting

My bike was cold, as it was left outside.  The only problem I had besides having to air up the studded tires, was that the freewheel was not “catching.”  However, after a few revolutions, it reluctantly clicked, and I was on my way.

I tried to take a few photos with my iPhone, and my hands got chilled right away.  No worries, I just pull my fingers out of the digits of the gloves and form them into a ball one at a time as I ride, and within a few minutes my hands are toasty again.

The snow was drifted in a few areas, but the roads were mostly clear, and the studded tires were solid on the snow.  The 7.4 miles flew by, and I was reminded again about that feeling of freedom I get when I ride. I again experienced the stream of creative thought that comes as you travel by your own power.

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I just wanted to let everyone know that you can ride all winter long, even in below zero temperatures as long as you’re well prepared.  The first few times you try it you will probably over-dress.  It takes a few rides to get the right amount of layers based on the temperature and the wind, but modern breathable shells make it much easier.

What’s the coldest you’ll ride?  Please comment.

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Biking 50/50 Challenge: Ride 50 Miles a Week for 50 Weeks in 2012

Last year I was thinking a lot about turning 50.  I conjured up the 50/50 challenge because I thought I could inspire myself as well as others to ride more.  I was going to start on my 50th birthday in April, and I would give myself 2 ‘bye’ weeks where I allowed myself a break from the 50 mile requirement those weeks.  I started training for it in December 2011, and it didn’t seem that hard to ride 50 miles in  a week, even in December.  It turned out to be a really mild winter, so I thought why not begin my my 50/50 challenge on January 1?

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I got some 700Cx35 Schwalbe Winter Marathon studded tires and some fenders for Christmas, so I went about converting my old touring bike into an affordable winter commuter.  I used to ride year-round when I was in college and living in Minneapolis, but I recalled a few times I went down on black ice, and I figured I was getting a little too old for that!  Well, that left my old ‘beater bike’ which I had been using as my commuter to be available to ship out to the Outdoor Retailer Show in the crate.  That meant I could ride while at the show, which we do every January and July for Granite Gear.

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Looking back on the year it was a busy one, and I should have documented this whole challenge better, but I was really doing it for myself.  I told a lot of people about it to keep myself honest, and my wife and 3 kids were super-supportive.  My son turned 16 and got his drivers license so he was able to drive himself around as well as transport my 10 year old girl and 7 year old boy around town.

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My ride into Granite Gear, where I work is 7.4 miles, and the shop is about 500 vertical feet downhill from home.  On most mornings I rode into work, and on most afternoons I would either ride home or catch a ride with my wife.  Did I mention she was super supportive?

I completed the challenge, some weeks were harder than others, and on those weeks I had to ride on Saturday to complete the week and barely make it.  On other weeks, especially during the summer, I made the target easily, especially on weeks I joined my friends for the local Tuesday Night group ride.  The 2 bye weeks turned out to be the week I took my son and the Boy Scout troop hiking on Isle Royale (we hiked 60 miles) and the week I travelled to Vietnam for business. The total milage for the year turned out to be 2828 miles.  That has to be the most miles since my days in the Twin Cities living without a car.

A few days ago we had a Festivus party (a week late and without an aluminum pole) with a few close friends, and it happened to be the last day of the 50/50 challenge.  I had 8 miles left, so I rode 6 miles in the early afternoon and saved the last two for the beginning of the party.  What a great way to end the year with a few friends.

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A few people have asked if I’m going to ride 51 miles a week for 51 weeks this year, but I think I will just ride when I can.  I’m going to need to put in quite a few miles to reach my goal for 2013 which is to lose 25 pounds!  I hope everyone is inspired to set some kind of goal for the New Year, tell your friends about it, and celebrate at the end of the year.  Why not set a goal to get out and ride?

Fat Biking on the Northshore State Trail

I’ve always wanted to try it, and on Christmas Eve and the day before that I took a ride on the snowmobile trail near my house. It was more fun than I had imagined! It was 7 degrees F when I left but that was no problem as I’m used to dressing for these kind of conditions on my daily commute to work.

There has not been a lot of snow around here, we are way below normal, but we did get enough snow early on to put down a base, and the trail was packed down by the groomer, and left to rest. There’s not really enough snow for the snowmobiles, but plenty for a fat bike. I didn’t need to worry about getting run down by a snow machine going 60 mph. In fact, I had the trail to myself.

The Northshore Trail crosses the road about a mile from my driveway. So I have a really great resource right in my back yard, so to speak. I can ride right from my house, which is what I normally do going to work, only for this ride I took the road North instead of the usual way. This is the same trail that the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon uses, it stretches all the way from Duluth to Grand Portage. The section I rode starts at the Lake County Demonstration Forest off of the Drummond Grade.

Right away, the trail does a steep climb, and I quickly learned that I couldn’t stand up and crank over the hill without the rear tire spinning. No matter, the Surly Moonlander quickly shifts into granny gear, and you can easily just remain seated and power up the hills in the lower gears, then crank it back into high gear for the descent! There are a few more hills, then a slow and steady ascent through boreal forest to the Stewart River, where I turned around and headed home.

I really want to get me one of these bikes. Thanks to Eric Larsen for sending up the bike to get fit for some custom panniers for his Cycle South Expedition. Check out Www.ericlarsenexplore.com to follow him on his journey to be the first person to bicycle to the South Pole.

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